Christmas Eve Manvotional 2010

by Brett & Kate McKay on December 23, 2010 · 64 comments

in A Man's Life, Manvotionals

While traveling in France, author William J. Lederer was so touched by the actions of an American Navy Sailor on Christmas Eve that he sent the following letter to the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C, Admiral David L. McDonald.

Admiral David L. McDonald, USN
Chief of Naval Operations
Washington, D.C.

Dear Admiral McDonald,

Eighteen people asked me to write this letter to you.

Last year at Christmas time, my wife, three boys and I were in France, on our way from Paris to Nice. For five wretched days everything had gone wrong. Our hotels were “tourist traps,” our rented car broke down; we were all restless and irritable in the crowded car. On Christmas Eve, when we checked into our hotel in Nice, there was no Christmas spirit in our hearts.

It was raining and cold when we went out to eat. We found a drab little restaurant shoddily decorated for the holiday. Only five tables were occupied. There were two German couples, two French families, and an American sailor, by himself. In the corner a piano player listlessly played Christmas music.

I was too tired and miserable to leave. I noticed that the other customers were eating in stony silence. The only person who seemed happy was the American sailor. While eating, he was writing a letter, and a half-smile lighted his face.

My wife ordered our meal in French. The waiter brought us the wrong thing. I scolded my wife for being stupid. The boys defended her, and I felt even worse.

Then, at the table with the French family on our left, the father slapped one of his children for some minor infraction, and the boy began to cry.

On our right, the German wife began berating her husband.

All of us were interrupted by an unpleasant blast of cold air. Through the front door came an old flower woman. She wore a dripping, tattered overcoat, and shuffled in on wet, rundown shoes. She went from one table to the other.

“Flowers, monsieur? Only one franc.”

No one bought any.

Wearily she sat down at a table between the sailor and us. To the waiter she said, “A bowl of soup. I haven’t sold a flower all afternoon.” To the piano player she said hoarsely, “Can you imagine, Joseph, soup on Christmas Eve?”

He pointed to his empty “tipping plate.”

The young sailor finished his meal and got up to leave. Putting on his coat, he walked over to the flower woman’s table.

“Happy Christmas,” he said, smiling and picking out two corsages. “How much are they?”

“Two francs, monsieur.”

Pressing one of the small corsages flat, he put it into the letter he had written, then handed the woman a 20-franc note.

“I don’t have change, Monsieur,” she said. “I’ll get some from the waiter.”

“No, ma’am,” said the sailor, leaning over and kissing the ancient cheek. “This is my Christmas present to you.”

Then he came to our table, holding the other corsage in front of him. “Sir,” he said to me, “may I have permission to present these flowers to your beautiful daughter?”

In one quick motion he gave my wife the corsage, wished us a Merry Christmas and departed.

Everyone had stopped eating. Everyone had been watching the sailor. Everyone was silent.

A few seconds later Christmas exploded throughout the restaurant like a bomb.

The old flower woman jumped up, waving the 20-franc note, shouted to the piano player, “Joseph, my Christmas present! And you shall have half so you can have a feast too.”

The piano player began to belt out Good King Wencelaus, beating the keys with magic hands.

My wife waved her corsage in time to the music. She appeared 20 years younger. She began to sing, and our three sons joined her, bellowing with enthusiasm.

“Gut! Gut!” shouted the Germans. They began singing in German.

The waiter embraced the flower woman. Waving their arms, they sang in French.

The Frenchman who had slapped the boy beat rhythm with his fork against a bottle. The lad climbed on his lap, singing in a youthful soprano.

A few hours earlier 18 persons had been spending a miserable evening. It ended up being the happiest, the very best Christmas Eve, they had ever experienced.

This, Admiral McDonald, is what I am writing you about. As the top man in the Navy, you should know about the very special gift that the U.S. Navy gave to my family, to me and to the other people in that French restaurant. Because your young sailor had Christmas spirit in his soul, he released the love and joy that had been smothered within us by anger and disappointment. He gave us Christmas.

Thank you, Sir, very much.

Merry Christmas,
Bill Lederer

From War Letters by Andrew Carroll

Merry Christmas from the Art of Manliness!

{ 64 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Edward December 23, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Thank you for this Brett – excellent!

2 Tyler December 23, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Great story. This gave me chills.

3 Dave December 23, 2010 at 8:14 pm

A fantastic realization of the magic of Christmas.

4 Carlo d. December 23, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Very inspirational to do small kind acts. Bravo!

5 Clint WestMetal December 23, 2010 at 11:38 pm

people really arent that nice in the real world. most would’ve robbed the flower girl…

6 Colin December 23, 2010 at 11:43 pm

It’s wonderful to hear that our servicemen are such exceptional ambassadors for our country and examples for all of us to follow.

7 Clint WestMetal December 23, 2010 at 11:45 pm

“It’s wonderful to hear that our servicemen are such exceptional ambassadors for our country and examples for all of us to follow.”

just like My Lai

8 AJ Jones December 24, 2010 at 12:40 am

@Clint WestMetal-
You, sir, ought to be ashamed. I feel sorry you have nothing better to do on a Thursday night.

Happy Christmas Eve to the rest of you fine folks, ladies and gentleman alike.

9 Brandon December 24, 2010 at 1:06 am


10 Joshua December 24, 2010 at 2:17 am

Fantastic example. I’ve been a member of the Navy for only three months, but it is very inspiring and challenging to have something like that to follow.

11 Clint WestMetal December 24, 2010 at 2:41 am

“You, sir, ought to be ashamed. I feel sorry you have nothing better to do on a Thursday night”

why? out here, in the real world, life is brutal and unforgiving. you think any of that story actually happened?

that flower girl wouldve returned to crushing poverty and the families in that restaurant wouldve broken down eventually. welcome to earth, do u want me to stamp your hand so you can re enter?

12 Patrick December 24, 2010 at 2:55 am

Clint please dont doubt the artofmanliness, You should no better sir.

13 Splashman December 24, 2010 at 3:14 am

Thanks, Clint! You have provided the most overt antithesis imaginable to this story of love, charity, and manliness. I’m going to send this story to everyone I know and will be sure to point out the commenter Clint who, with nothing but bile to contribute on Christmas Eve, is greatly to be pitied.

I’ll pray you recognize your need for a heart transplant. Merry Christmas!

14 Dan Smith December 24, 2010 at 3:41 am

Not to be a spoiled sport, and certainly not to brag, but I’ve not only seen something like this, but I’ve experienced it. We sailors are world travelers, and we often do stuff like this. Granted, we do plenty of studid stuff too. I grant you that. But we really do some downright cool stuff.

The world is a horrible place at times, but there is always a sailor defending it.

15 Ian December 24, 2010 at 4:12 am

@Clint WestMetal Even if what you say may be true in certain circumstances, it is the negative attitude that you portray that makes those problems a reality. If you talk about problems, you’re just a whiner, and a weakness to society. If you talk about problems, and in turn decide on the solution, well that makes you a man.

16 Clint WestMetal December 24, 2010 at 4:26 am

“If you talk about problems, you’re just a whiner, and a weakness to society. If you talk about problems, and in turn decide on the solution, well that makes you a man.”

oh grace us with your presence Great Arbiter of Manhood. it’s not an issue of societal weakness it’s an issue of people. Popeye up there in the comments thinks him and his sailor cadre are paragons of virtue while the rest of you go on about Disneyland fantasies like “the christmas spirit”. why cant you face the fact that things just dont work like that out here on Earth. The flower girl still returns to devastating poverty and the sailor goes on his merry way. What do we know about this sailor, what if he’d just committed a triple homicide?

it’s all fairies and rainbows till you realise the world isnt good and bad people. everyone is bad, we’re just on opposing sides. that’s it.

17 Clint WestMetal December 24, 2010 at 4:27 am

oh grace us with your presence Great Arbiter of Manhood. it’s not an issue of societal weakness it’s an issue of people. Popeye up there in the comments thinks him and his sailor cadre are paragons of virtue while the rest of you go on about Disneyland fantasies like “the christmas spirit”. why cant you face the fact that things just dont work like that out here on Earth. The flower girl still returns to devastating poverty and the sailor goes on his merry way. What do we know about this sailor, what if he’d just committed a triple homicide?

it’s all fairies and rainbows till you realise the world isnt good and bad people. everyone is bad, we’re just on opposing sides. that’s it.

18 Josiah December 24, 2010 at 4:40 am

The world is full of bad people. That’s why God did what He did in the first place. Now I’m not silly enough to suggest that Jesus was born on Christmas Eve and all that sort of thing, but He certainly was born. And He certainly did die a criminal’s death as an innocent man.

It doesn’t have to be Christmas time to celebrate the birth of Christ — heck, I sing “Joy to the World” in the summertime just because it’s a good song that says what I want to say. But Christmas can offer a good time of reflection. A time to think about the true horrific evil this world has to offer, and time to think about what it cost a holy and righteous God to offer us an alternative.

Selflessness, love, compassion, strength, wisdom, and all the other traits that we consider “manly” are just vague distortions of those perfect attributes of God. Jesus was the ultimate man.

Merry Christmas folks.

19 Johan Nederhof December 24, 2010 at 4:42 am

Tears in my eyes.
Have a great Christmas.


20 Guido Segers December 24, 2010 at 5:28 am

True story or not, that doesn’t matter. Imagine being the sailer and walking out of the door… You never know if something good happened, but atleast you did something good. Thats what it is all about and thats something we can all aspire to.

have a merry christmas everyone, from the Netherlands

21 Jonathan Brook December 24, 2010 at 5:35 am

Awesome post Brett.

Clint we all know the world is a scary place. But can’t we just spend one day of the year thinking about the good things in life. Enjoying the company of others, giving to others, eating too much and drinking too much (especially here in Australia).

Americans don’t get the best of press in the rest of the world sometimes. But stories like this remind us of the goodness of your country and it’s people.

Merry Christmas to every manly man on this website.

22 John December 24, 2010 at 5:41 am

@Clint WestMetal

Hahah oh man, a person who thinks everyone in the world is naturally bad, how sad.
I’m sure living in a world with such negativity is quite the delight, well good luck with that.
Merry christmas, but your not so merry so happy holidays, oh wait… ughh… errr…
I give up, in your case I would recommend you look up a tradition called Festivus.

“Many Christmas’s ago, Frank Costanza went to buy a doll for George.
There was only one doll left and as he reached for it, so did another man.
After struggling for the doll, he thought there could be another way.
The doll was destroyed, but out of that, a new holiday was born.
It was called Festivus. A Festivus for the Rest of Us.”

23 J.P. December 24, 2010 at 6:04 am

Brett, well done as always. As a third-generation American military man serving in Europe, this was especially touching to read. On this Christmas Eve, Merry Christmas to you and yours, and thank you for the wonderful resource you continue to provide to the rest of us through the AoM site.

24 Doug December 24, 2010 at 6:08 am

Merry Christmas!

25 Mikkel Nordvig December 24, 2010 at 6:19 am

Theres is enough bleakness in the world to make everyone of us despair over and over again. It is therefore so much more important, and a God given duty of every man and woman alike, to find it in their hearts to rejoice in every little bit of light and beauty and magic we are granted, wheter it be on Christmas or any other time of the year. This story brought warmth from my head to my toes – I pity those who are unable to accept the wonders of life, and instead insists on focusing the horrors!
A heartfelt MERRY CHRISTMASS to youall from Denmark.

26 Steve G December 24, 2010 at 7:52 am

Many thanks for sharing. Just do some good things, pretty easy eh!

Merry Christmas!

27 Tim December 24, 2010 at 8:00 am

Life is what you make it! For yourself and everyone that your life touches. Be a real man and make someone’s Christmas special. Someone you have never even met or know. That’s the TRUE spirit of Christmas!!!

28 Anupam December 24, 2010 at 8:44 am

I love and look forward to each email from the AoM, but this is the first time I am posting here. Thank you for this heartwarming and deeply touching story. This is the power and splendour of having a good attitude, a hallmark of being a man. And as Guido Segers said, imagine being the sailor and walking out, not knowing if what you did had any impact at all but having done it, because he loved it! I have been raised in a Hindu culture and am atheist, and I wish to say to you all that this is such a special story that transcends all languages, cultures and regions. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, Brett, Kate and Family, and fellow AoM readers, from India!

29 Steve-Personal Success Factors December 24, 2010 at 10:42 am

Each of us never knows the impact our attitude and actions will have on another human being or even a wave of human beings. This is such an inspiring story: thanks for sharing :)

30 Albert December 24, 2010 at 10:57 am

Clint, I think you’d get a chuckle out of this.

Merry Christmas, even for the Scrooges of the world!

31 John December 24, 2010 at 11:49 am

Thoroughly enjoyed reading that. Thank you Brett.

32 Biggyrat December 24, 2010 at 1:34 pm

@Clint WestMetal

” Always with the negative waves Moriarty, always with the negative waves!”

33 Eric Granata December 24, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Wonderful and inspiring! Thanks for sharing and Merry Christmas to you all!

34 MJCinc December 24, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Thank you Brett. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone, especially Clint, because I know you’ll see the light in due time.

35 Louis December 24, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Thanks for the story, Brett. It is a reminder that while few of us have the power or ability to make the “grand” contribution to ease the world’s ills, we each have the ability to make a difference to someone. It can be an act that makes all the difference in the world.

And to Clint: Yes, the world has all of evils and problems you mention and many that you cannot imagine. But even if the story were not true (and I make no assumptions either way) it is an excellent parable for how the simple actions of one can affect the lives of many.Sometimes the ‘truth’ does not need to have a “real” event behind it for it to still be true.

Merry Christmas

36 JJ December 24, 2010 at 4:54 pm

“people really arent that nice in the real world. most would’ve robbed the flower girl…”

The real world as opposed to the world in this letter? This is a real letter!

37 Oscar December 24, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Thank you for sharing this. It just proves that sometimes it’s the little things that have the greatest impact. That sailor acted like a true gentleman. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

38 Tubby Mike December 24, 2010 at 8:51 pm

True story or not (and why shouldn’t it be), just one small act of kindness is all it sometimes takes. We all just need to …keep …remembering …that. It’s just so hard in the noise that is society.

Seasons greetings to all AoM readers and contributors. I look forward to more interesting and lively debate in 2011.

39 Vudu December 24, 2010 at 10:47 pm

@ Clint WestMetal-
I’m glad I’ve been putting my life on the line for sad sacks like you for the past 23+ years. You may as well hit the restart button on your life and hope for a better game next time, sir!

40 Ryan W. December 24, 2010 at 11:59 pm

Really, really enjoyed the story. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent accurate or true to inspire me to spread more Christmas cheer.

41 Boudewyn C. December 25, 2010 at 1:34 am


Having been a serviceman, I can say, hand on heart, I have seen many examples of generosity by military personnel. I would have no trouble in accepting the veracity of this story.

At the same time, I have no doubt that there have been many incidents where military personnel have been far less charitable, even sadistic. Guess what. It is the same in all walks of life, in many professions. From Paedophile Priests, fraudulent accountants and Lawyers and arsonist firefighters.

While you and I both know that these people exist, I am saddened that you do not seem to think that a sailor, as described, cannot exist. I tell you now, they do. I am sorry that you cannot accept that such good exists, but your lack of acceptance in no way lessens the gesture.

As an ex-serviceman, who has spent tens of thousands of his own money to personally carry out volunteer work in Africa, I should be offended by your attitude, But in truth I am sorry that the circumstances of your life make you think the worst in a situation.

I hope you have a happy christmas, with peace on earth, and goodwill to all men. I wish you the best, Clint.

42 nathan December 25, 2010 at 4:00 am

I enjoyed this story. I’ve been the recipient of many small acts od kindness as well as small, and large acts, of evil.
I don’t support the military, but neither do I think that they are all mass murderers.

43 Frank December 25, 2010 at 8:41 am

I love this web site!

44 Dave December 25, 2010 at 8:44 am

I am filled with joy to read a story like that of the sailor in Nice. I am saddened when I see posts like Clint’s. Either he is just being sarcastic and is that type of guy who likes to rain on everyone’s parade—in other words, a guy to be pitied, and avoided if possible—or he is truly a troubled soul who is desperately in need of the Christmas message. Hopefully it is the latter, because there’s hope for you. If the former, take your crappy attitude elsewhere, sir. Find some place where losers congregate and stay there.
As for you, Nathan, you don’t support the military? If you’re an American citizen and pay taxes, you do support it, whether you like it or not. You likely fantasize about a world where the US military does not exist, or better yet, has been defeated. You imagine this world to be a place where everybody is now free of American oppression and will all join hands around the campfire to sing “Kumbaya”. If that happens, get your song in quickly because the Islamists will be hanging you and yours from the nearest lamppost as soon as they arrive.

45 Manuel December 25, 2010 at 6:38 pm

i really enjoyed that letter, gives me the feeling that “YOU” can make a difference. By every little gesture or act of humanity, you make the world a better place.

thanks a lot for that post!

46 Berenger - IDEAL Seduction December 25, 2010 at 8:15 pm

What a wonderful christmas tale ! I wish I could have met this sailor on some previous christmas eves…!

47 P.M.Lawrence December 25, 2010 at 11:29 pm

Dave, I would certainly prefer a world which didn’t have the US military playing much of a role BUT in which the USA had never ringbarked the British Empire, the French Empire, the Dutch Empire and so on. Whether the British Empire (say) were still around or had shifted its weight further onto the various Dominions the way it had been doing before it was so rudely interrupted (by the World Wars, not by the USA – the USA isn’t to blame for that), the world wouldn’t have a hegemonic USA that might leave it in the lurch at any time, but even if the enemies were there the world wouldn’t be at those risks – which the USA inadvertently nurtured – because we would have working, self-reliant resources in place, resources that a hegemonic USA crowds out. The only reason the USA is a “necessary country” is because it stops alternatives – it isn’t willing to do any of that sort of weight shifting.

48 Peaches December 26, 2010 at 12:58 pm

When we adopt the idea that we are all bad people just on different sides, we excuse the horrors we commit against each other. Such self serving cynicism allows poor Clint to skate away from responsiblity and allows him to protect himself against the danger of being hurt or dissapointed. What Clint might see as being brutally honest, I see as cowardice. The point of AOM is to act in courage and hope in the confidence that we and our actions matter.

Merry Christmas to men who make a difference.

49 Keith VanDyke December 26, 2010 at 2:06 pm

I am reading this on Dec 26, the day after Christmas, and 4 years to the day of my older brothers death. Before that incident, the holidays had been rough, a divorce that caused my son to be thousands of miles away, and the typical B.S. that is life. This year has been really rough, lay-off’s, deaths of close friends, a disabling injury that will force me into a major career change, ECT…. And I keep reading stories like that one, and I hope that maybe it will generate a glimmer of Christmas spirit. Yes it could be worse, I know that, I’ve said that for years, and now I get to live it. I’ll spend this week in reflection, and quitely bring in the new year with hope and prayers, not of prosperity, but that it stops the downward spiral. I don’t come on here very often, but when I do I feel like I’m amongst some great thinkers.
So this holiday season, take a second to toast Rico,a Brother,Son,Father,Friend, and a great loss.
As for you that take the time to read this, may 2011 be your best yet .
And as for me, Lord give me strength, And I guess the bottom line is that none of are getting out of here alive.

50 Manuel December 26, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Keith thank you for your sincerity.

“Hope unbelieved is always considered nonsense. But hope believed is history in the process of being changed” by JIM WALLIS

Keep hope alive!

51 Dave December 26, 2010 at 7:47 pm

PM, as to whether the US exercises “hegemony” (as if anybody really knows what that means), I’ll simply paraphrase Colin Powell, who said, “Nobody wants the US to be the policeman of the world. Yet when somebody needs a cop, who do they call?”

52 Darin December 27, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Trolls will troll, and you’ve all been trolled. He won and you lost, because his mission is accomplished.

53 Mike December 27, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Great story, I wish more service members would act like him.

54 Rodney December 27, 2010 at 11:56 pm

I agree!

This post/letter was very touching and makes me think of positive deeds,large or small,that a person is can be capable of.
Hope everyone had a merry christmas!

55 nathan December 28, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Dave-thanks for putting me in my place and for reminding me that evil people with dark skin, speaking a different language, and practicing a different religion are lurking around every corner. Whew! I almost dropped my fear guard for a second.
As for my support of the military with taxes. Does the victim of a mugging support armed robbery when he hands over his wallet?
I liked this story, and my post was an attempt to try to show that just because I disagree with the military doesn’t mean that I would automatically discount the story as false.
Thanks for making it weird, dave.

56 Rick G December 29, 2010 at 5:43 pm

For some reason, a lot of folks have a hard time mustering the old Christmas spirit, just like in the letter we just read. In the letter it showed the possibility for one person have that spirit and how contagious it can be, so chin up Clint, Merry Christmas, and here’s to hoping that you see the better side of people in the New Year.

57 reggie December 31, 2010 at 3:16 am

Can someone help me be a man I canr read good 7083820963

58 Bryan Lee Sammis December 31, 2010 at 6:59 pm

the story definately brought a tear to my eyes!

59 TimRC January 1, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Thank you. This was something i needed to hear.

60 Mike January 4, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Great story!!!

61 Rick M. January 14, 2011 at 6:50 am

Nice story, it brought a tear to this old soldier’s eyes. Now wouldn’t it be really cool if the people dining in the restaurants of America today would have the same audacity as this young sailor had to buy a flower, and pick up the tab or buy a drink for a lonely sailor, soldier, airman or marine. I witnessed a WW11 vet pick up the tab of a soldier in Colorado Springs last year The old Man said “Thank you son ,for you service , America is proud of you and I want buy you lunch” The soldier quipped , but he knew it would be rude to refuse, He was having lunch with his wife and three kids, his wife cried, my wife cried the soldier was speechless and humble, I was proud and everyone applauded! Ain’t America great!

62 Christopher January 2, 2013 at 1:10 am

Poor Clint. He could have used a moment like the one described in the story. His sad comments have the sound of Ebenezer’s before his redemption.

63 T. C. December 16, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Thank you for sharing this story. I appreciate it very much.

64 Charles Allen December 23, 2013 at 8:27 pm

Heartwarming and lovely sentiment. We all should have a spirit of kindness and love at this holy and happy time of the year. Merry Christmas to you all!

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